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"Soderbergh's Che is quietly revolutionary: Two-part epic about the rise and fall of Guevara avoids the obvious"

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Here's the headline from MSNBC's review of Steven Soderbergh's four-hour, two-part biopic about everybody's favorite revolutionary murderer. The film, which is being released for a week-long run in New York and Los Angeles so it can be considered for various awards, comprises two parts, The Argentine and Guerrilla:

Soderbergh's 'Che' is quietly revolutionary: Two-part epic about the rise and fall of Guevara avoids the obvious

…"Guerrilla" is somewhat harder to watch, since we know that, unlike "The Argentine," things aren't going to end well for Guevara. His jungle travails are similar to his Cuban experiences, but we see how the U.S.-backed Bolivian government did a better job than Batista at keeping the peasant population from supporting the guerrillas.

Whole review here.

Yeah, I'm betting it avoids the obvious about Che. I in no way am interested in assessing art, music, film, video, cartoons, whatever simply through the lens of politics and ideology. I find certain works (Journey to the End of Night, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Manhattan Transfer, Sister Carrie, the movie version of Papillon [written by the execrable Dalton Trumbo], everything by Dashiell Hammett, most of Balzac, the list is nearly endless) captivating and impressive despite their politics or those of their authors. I don't even care about "aesthetics," if by that term you mean a preconceived notion of beauty, symmetry, blah blah blah. A creative work can move its audience for an infinite number of reasons and that effect, however inane or offensive the thought behind it, should always be acknowledged. 

But I wince at the coming reaction to Che partly because I'm sure it's a well-wrought urn and hence will be praised as a "serious" movie because of its politics rather than director Soderbergh's craft. He's a good director (who doesn't like The Limey even as we say enough already with the goddamn Ocean's franchise [any of which is more watchable than the dreadful Rat Pack original]?). Every retard in Hollywood is now going to start thinking about doing "serious" political movies now and most of them will be as profound and insightful as, say, Bulworth or Dave.

In any case, as we brace for the coming Hooray for Che wave, keep in mind three reason pieces that went live yesterday:

Dumb Man Talking: Sean Penn stumps for Cuban communism, by Michael C. Moynihan, which highlights the plight of Cuban punk band Porno Para Ricardo and the vapidity of Sean Penn and the Castro-loving useful idiots at The Nation. (Say what you will about America's censorious streak, but Chuck Berry was prosecuted for criminal acts, not inventing the Duck Walk.)

But If You Go Carrying Pictures of Chairman Mao, by Matt Welch, which recalls a clandestine meeting in Cuba in the 1990s (!) where students secretly listened to the Beatles. None of the students, writes Welch, "could understand what kind of evil, micro-managing jerkoff would criminalize "She Loves You" … well, except for the American woman who was nice enough to bring me there."

And watch Killer Chic: Hollywood's sick love affair with Che Guevara, which hopefully brings some balance to the gauzy, kiss-kiss portraits of the Butcher of La Cabana, the infamous Cuban prison:

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  1. Apologists for communist Cuba have a lot in common with apologists for the Confederate States of America.

  2. What’s wrong with Bulworth? I thought it was pretty clever – almost Chayefskian.

  3. Michael,

    If only communist Cuba was only a distant historical memory and not a current reality!

    I’ve mentioned this before, but The National Lampoon did a funny bit on Che back in the 1970s: “Che Guevara’s Bolivian Diaries”. Unfortunately, I can’t find the text on-line, but this book excerpt contains a summary and some passages. ?Muy gracioso!

  4. What’s wrong with Bulworth? I thought it was pretty clever – almost Chayefskian.

    Are you referring to Network? I witnessed a world class display of blowhardry, but nothing I would describe as clever in that horrible piece of oscar bait.

  5. we see how the U.S.-backed Bolivian government did a better job than Batista at keeping the peasant population from supporting the guerrillas.

    I like how he implies that Batista wasn’t U.S.-backed. The inference being that the only reason the peasants of Bolivia didn’t support the glorious revolution was because Uncle Sam’s dirty meddling.

    But, the US backed both Bolivia and Batista. Therefore, the reason Bolivian peasants didn’t support Che was because they didn’t support Che.

  6. He’s a good director

    No he’s not. He’s a repackaging hack who has fooled a lot of people into thinking he has talent. You get a good cinematographer and find the right things to remake and people think you have “craft”.

    Traffic? Remake of the British series. Ocean’s 11? Remake of the Rat Pack. Solaris? Remake. Out of Sight? Based on a book. The list goes on and on.

    He’s pulled the wool over a lot of people’s eyes. It’s a shame to see he did that to you too, Nick.

  7. Perhaps it is my lack of graduate literature classes but I don’t find that Dashiell Hammet’s literary output reflects his later political activity.

  8. Are you referring to Network? I witnessed a world class display of blowhardry, but nothing I would describe as clever in that horrible piece of oscar bait.

    Wait, are you now saying that Network is also horrible? Wow.

  9. Epi-
    He’s a director. Their job is to put other people’s ideas on screen. This is what director’s do. Stanley Kubrick was a brilliant director, but all of his movie’s were based on other people’s books. I’m not making an argument about Soderbergh one way or the other, but I think your criticism is flawed.

  10. so it can be considered for various awards

    Ya’ think there will be any? If I were a retard I’d add: LOL.

  11. Yes I am. Wall to wall preaching. Not funny, not interesting, just a lot of dull, blow-hard speech making. The American Beauty of its time.

    Time Out summarises it fairly well:

    Washed-up news anchorman (Finch) flips on air, finds God, and is gleefully exploited by his TV company to boost the ratings with his epileptic evangelic revivalism. Network gives a rather old-fashioned plot the ’70s treatment: the result is slick, ‘adult’, self-congratulatory, and almost entirely hollow. Paddy Chayefsky’s entrenched but increasingly desperate script parades its middle-aged symptoms to little effect: it’s ulcerous, bilious, paranoid about youth, and increasingly susceptible to fantasy. Above all, it’s haunted by fear of failing powers; presumably people telling each other what lousy lays they were is to be taken as indication of the film’s searing honesty. Lumet’s direction does nothing to contain the sprawl, and most of the interest comes in watching such a lavishly mounted vehicle leaving the rails so spectacularly.

  12. Stanley Kubrick was a brilliant director, but all of his movie’s were based on other people’s books.

    Basing movies on books is fine. But when you remake as many movies as Soderbergh has, something’s wrong there. You’re no longer bringing something to the screen; you are reinterpreting something that’s already been on the screen. Would you respect a band where the majority of their songs were covers? And their remaining work was written by others?

  13. I don’t hate The ‘Bergh but he doesn’t do much for me. The marriage of far-left politics and Hollywood always produces ugly children. Ugly children that win awards.

  14. “Would you respect a band where the majority of their songs were covers? And their remaining work was written by others?”

    that would depend on how hard they rock, i suppose. i mean, my favorite melvins song ever (going blind) is a fucking kiss cover. if i can live through that terrible knowledge, i can live through anything.

    oh if you enjoy setting off film nerds, mention that tarkovsky is like valium, but without the finesse or utility. almost as boring as these continual che posts.

  15. Acid Damage, Tarkovsky is beneath mention. At least Valium is fun.

    Personally, I like going after Resnais and Spike Lee to really chap some asses.

  16. spike lee is pretty ok, though. i dunno who that other guy is.

    i mean, on the whole, movies are horrendously boring. they’re very, very web 1.0. no interactivity, long drawn out sequences of landscapes and faces and shit, a lot of dialogue about feelings and shit (or if it’s an indie film, quirky people who don’t deserve to have feelings spend their time talking about feelings and how hard it is to make simple choices). they’re still constructed as though the audience has nothing better to do with its time.

    so i guess movies are more like xanax – leaves you feeling dead inside, kills several hours without your consent, and are mostly consumed by self-absorbed neurotics, fratboys, and overweight women with bluetooth headsets.

  17. Well hey, I guess that makes sense. Bulworth probably looks execrable to anyone lame enough to not like Network.

    Here’s a tip: They’re both comedies. That makes just about all of Time Out‘s criticisms a bit pointless. They seem to have believed they were reviewing a drama or a documentary. Criticizing Network as bilious and prone to fantasy is like criticizing Heathers by saying that the character of J.D. does not feel drawn from life.

  18. Oh, the communist menace lives on. Those who market Che kitsch and make money on it should be ashamed. Wait…

  19. Every retard in Hollywood is now going to start thinking about doing “serious” political movies now and most of them will be as profound and insightful as, say, Bulworth or Dave.

    His politics are also a bit douchy, but you know what was a decent movie? – Bob Roberts. (albeit with it’s fair share of orthodox hollywood liberal tropes) And I think it’s aged ok, but I haven’t seen it in a while. Specifically, I remember at the time that I thought it was too cynical of a movie; now, however, I don’t think it was cynical enough.

  20. “no interactivity”

    What about yelling at the screen?

    “No-don’t go up that darkened stairway!”

    And I hear that the Rocky Horror Picture Show can be very interactive.

  21. By ‘his politics’ I mean Tim Robbins’.

  22. If you look at other murderous revolutionary assholes like Robespierre, he gets a very rough treatment:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robespierre#Cultural_depictions

    Lenin and Mao also don’t come off easy.

    Why is Che treated differently? Well, he rode around on a motorcycle and was very photogenic. And he died “tragically” young.

  23. that would depend on how hard they rock, i suppose. i mean, my favorite melvins song ever (going blind) is a fucking kiss cover. if i can live through that terrible knowledge, i can live through anything.

    That’s funny because one my favorite Melvins’ song is “The Green Manileeshi” originally done by Fleetwood Mac. Honestly I would pay for an all covers album by them.

    Which brings up my point about Soderbergh. I think he’s a pretty solid director, remakes or not. His work seems to be much different then the original its based on and clearly his own. I don’t find him an amazing director. But he moves the story along well and keeps things interesting throughout.

    Most directors, and any other artists for that matter, like to pretend their ideas just sprang out of their head, wholely original with little influence from other sources. Dig a little deeper into their “influences” and you’ll see many of them just jacked their material from someone less well known. Not that their is anything wrong with that. It’s part of the creative process. Soderbergh is just more transparent about it than most.

  24. “Why is Che treated differently? Well, he rode around on a motorcycle and was very photogenic. And he died “tragically” young.”

    so we need to do a movie about milton friedman riding a motorcycle around the country to end the draft, is what you’re saying?

  25. “]?)” ? ?? !

    {Actually, I’m not sure that “Ocean’s 13,” which I reviewed at http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/57/ocean.html, was not less watchable than the original “Ocean’s 11.”}

  26. Extremely well done video, very moving. I’ve always been confused by Mao and Che ideology myself.

    Tip o’ the glass to Nick.

  27. so i guess movies are more like xanax – leaves you feeling dead inside, kills several hours without your consent, and are mostly consumed by self-absorbed neurotics, fratboys, and overweight women with bluetooth headsets

    You’re so negative, dude. Dead Alive doesn’t make me feel dead inside. Tom Hanks movies are another story, though.

    Dig a little deeper into their “influences” and you’ll see many of them just jacked their material from someone less well known

    To a certain degree. Soderbergh’s choices of ripoffs are pretty fucking dull, which makes him a shitty ripoff artist too.

  28. Che chic reminds me of the Brady Bunch episode when Bobby idolizes Jesse James.

  29. @Daze

    There’s this jazz bar in Chicago called the Green Mill that has a shrine set up for Al Capone.

  30. Here’s a tip: They’re both comedies.

    Ah, but to qualify as comedy it actually has to be funny. It generally helps if the movie doesn’t consist solely of long, dull speeches that shout “THIS FILM IS BRILLIANT SATIRE” at the audience.

  31. Apologists for communist Cuba have a lot in common with apologists for the Confederate States of America.

    Indeed. joe’s audacity to mock us for making such a big deal out of t-shirts, just weeks after he was arguing that anyone flying a confederate flag is a racist boor, was mind-boggling.

  32. Criticizing Network as bilious and prone to fantasy is like criticizing Heathers by saying that the character of J.D. does not feel drawn from life.

    The problem is that there are a lot of people who claim Network was a “prophetic” insightful social commentary. I tend to think such people are insane, but the criticism above is the inevitable backlash.

  33. criticizing Heathers by saying that the character of J.D. does not feel drawn from life

    Well, seeing as J.D.’s delivery was modeled after Jack Nicholson, that would be an especially dumb criticism.

  34. The thing I don’t get about guys like Sean Penn is that if his world was Castro’s world he wouldn’t get terminally bored spending his piles of money and then turn to flapping his fat mouth. There’d be no piles of money and he’d be shot for shooting off his mouth (see Daffy Duck).

    I suspect that he just figures he’d be on the correct side of the barricades and wouldn’t have to live like the rest of the populace.

    Either way he’s an idiot.

  35. ….was not less watchable than the original “Ocean’s 11…

    Amen, which is not to say Clooney’s Ocean’s 11 was worth two hours you’ll never get back neither.

    If movie patrons had recourse. IE, if you could get a refund every time you hated a movie, the quality would improve.

  36. I tend to think such people are insane, but the criticism above is the inevitable backlash.

    Yes.

  37. When do get a movie lionizing Franco, dammit?

  38. I’m not too concerned about the opinions of a guy who married Madonna.

    As long as A-Rod remains just a fuck buddy, he still has my respect, though.

  39. “i mean, on the whole, movies are horrendously boring. they’re very, very web 1.0. no interactivity…:
    Is dhex some kind of hyperactive robotic chipmonk?

  40. Lenin and Mao also don’t come off easy

    That’s now, but in the day every Boomer college student worth his salt had a tattered copy of Mao’s Little Red Book stuffed in the hip pocket of his jeans.

    He wasn’t quite as socially popular as Che was, but somebody made a pile of money printing Little Red Books.

    On a slightly different note, it appears to me that Che has actually made a resurgence this century. I don’t recall hearing much about him since the early seventies and now, whoa, he’s back. In Black!

  41. Not a Soderbergh fan, though I liked The Limey. Of course, it had Zod in it, which makes it ipso facto good.

    I disliked Bulworth quite a bit, by the way. I’m surprised anyone liked it.

  42. A.O. Scott in the NYT is more circumspect.

    http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/movies/12che.html

    “More dogmatic than thou (and certainly than Walter Salles’s 2004 “Motorcycle Diaries,” a vivid and sympathetic picture of the young Ernesto Guevara), “Che” not only participates in the worship of its subject but also spares no effort to insulate him from skepticism.”

    . . .

    “”Che,” in other words, is epic hagiography. Its second half, recreating Guevara’s failed attempt to reproduce the Cuban revolution in Bolivia, might be called “The Passion of the Che,” in honor of the fanatical fidelity with which it walks its sanctified hero through the stations of his martyrdom.”

    . . .

    “This self-absorption – the extent to which “Che” is a movie about itself – saves it from becoming too dull and allows you, at least temporarily, to overlook its na?ve and fuzzy politics. But the film’s formal sophistication is ultimately an evasion of the moral reckoning that Ernesto Guevara, more than 40 years and several million T-shirts after his death, surely deserves.”

  43. I liked Solaris and the Good German and the first Oceans.

    Che is, btw, an immoral murdering bastard.

    “Would you respect a band where the majority of their songs were covers? And their remaining work was written by others?”

    Yes, if they did it regularly competently or if they put new twists on it that were artistically interesting, which I think he does.

  44. But of course he is no Kubrick. Kubrick would have never done “Clockwork Orange 3”

  45. Well, seeing as J.D.’s delivery was modeled after Jack Nicholson, that would be an especially dumb criticism.

    Right, but it’s shtick. A critic watching the film might decide to say, “This character doesn’t feel like a genuine teenager to me.” That criticism would be dumb because shtick is appropriate in a comedy, where it might not be appropriate in Elephant.

    Ah, but to qualify as comedy it actually has to be funny.

    It helps if you have a sense of humor.

    BTW, the other problem with the Time Out summary is that the movie is not, strictly speaking, “about” Howard Beale. The protagonist is the William Holden character, and the antagonists are the Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall characters. Beale is a plot point, an incident. The movie is about the twilight of a generation that saw itself upholding noble values [like “the news” and “the public interest”] and the rise of a generation that cynically exploits everything for entertainment. I don’t think the movie is intended to be “prophetic” since by the movie’s terms it’s just describing a process that’s already underway, and applying hyperbole and humor to it.

    I disliked Bulworth quite a bit, by the way. I’m surprised anyone liked it.

    I think a lot of people can’t see past the “evil insurance company” politics and Warren Beatty’s ego to see the film for what it is: A depiction of a protagonist who, in a fit of extreme despair and hopelessness, decides he no longer gives a shit about anything – and in the catharsis of throwing off his old cares, and the lies and false persona he invented to protect those cares, he stumbles on to the solutions to all of his problems. I thought it was a nice twist on the “guy goes over the edge” film. It’s also got some parts that are effective “comedy of manners” bits – when Beatty transgresses the rules of various political set pieces [the fund raising breakfast, the CSPAN ridealong, the televised debate, etc.] it made me laugh. Some people laugh at Borat, I laughed at Bulworth.

  46. Well, seeing as J.D.’s delivery was modeled after Jack Nicholson, that would be an especially dumb criticism.

    Christian Slater’s delivery in everything he’s done is modelled after Jack Nicolson. I don’t think it’s entirely deliberate, they just happen to have the same timbre and diction.

  47. and hairline.

  48. Fluffy,

    I think I got the point of the movie, I just thought it was poorly executed. De gustibus non est disputandum.

  49. Palin’s gone from us, so now we’re gonna talk about Che every day?

    Shoot me.

  50. “Is dhex some kind of hyperactive robotic chipmonk?”

    yes. i am a overactive cyborg rodent who took monastic vows.

    ha ha ha get it?

    “You’re so negative, dude. Dead Alive doesn’t make me feel dead inside. Tom Hanks movies are another story, though.”

    dead alive is cool. i kick ass for the lord, etc.

    to be fair, my favorite movie of the last five years was tokyo drift. it is sublime. amazing. not a second wasted on plot or even making the slightest bit of sense. just DRIFTUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU until you puke out of joy.

  51. Palin was a communist guerrilla? Really, I need to read the paper more often.

  52. she did come from alaska, most commie of all the 50 states.

  53. cunnivore | December 12, 2008, 11:37am | #
    I’m not too concerned about the opinions of a guy who married Madonna.

    As long as A-Rod remains just a fuck buddy, he still has my respect, though.

    Dude, he plays for the Yankees That cuts into the coolness of even someone as infinitely awesome as Jeter, a mere mortal like A-Rod can’t take that kind of hit and also been in physical proximity of Madonna’s rancid uterian hole without coming out a grotesquery of inhuman proportions. I could not shake his hand, even if he is a nicer guy than what is reported.

  54. Here’s a good left-wing criticism of Che Guevara, just to break the false dichotomy on Hit & Run.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-should-che-be-an-icon-no-394336.html

  55. I agree,

    Bring back Fulgencio Batista and Meyer Lanski.

    At least the people could have the Beatles and Jazz while they were waiting for the bullet.

    Perhaps you would be as outraged if people walked around with Batista or Somosa or Baby Doc on a tee shirt?

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